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Living Through the War, Then and Now

December 16, 2007 Media 10 Comments

We are at war, that much we all know — we see the reports on CNN about more death and destruction over there. For those of us without a direct connection to someone at risk, our lives continue basically unabated. It wasn’t always this way.

I just watched the 3-hour British mini-series called “1940s House” where three generations of the Hymers family moved into a period 1940s middle class suburban home outside London for 9 weeks. It was filmed starting in April 2000 and originally broadcast on BBC in January 2001.

A couple, their divorced daughter and two grandsons all transported themselves back in time to relive the years of WWII in middle-class suburban London, condensed into a two month venture. Air raids, rationing, blackouts, and such were just a small part of what this family was put through in their temporary 1930s home. The air raids, by the way, were simulated via recordings, while they squished themselves into their self-built shelter in the backyard. Citizens, regardless of how much money they had, all did without so help win the war. Here in America the situation was similar, although without the overhead attacks such as those on London.

My parents were just getting ready to start high school when the war was over. My grandmothers, both in their mid to late 30’s at the time, had their husbands around as well as many kids to feed. Both sides of my family were in small town rural Oklahoma. Neither grandmother ever drove. I don’t think either ever rode a bike, that would have been a luxury for them. Both sets of grandparents, however, each had a massive garden. Each, in fact, was not much smaller than New Roots Urban Farm. Of course, each had large families with five kids on my mom’s side and eight on my dad’s side. Canning was an important part of the ritual — growing more than you needed at the moment so you could save for winter. Sadly, my grandmothers and my mom passed without my learning how to can veggies. When I was an undergrad, I managed to make some marginally respectable Zwieback, a Mennonite roll my grandmother Klaassen could make in her sleep.

How many of us today could bake our own bread and prepare all our own meals from scratch? Sure, we have those times where we do but what if that was a daily thing? Lyn Hymers, the grandmother on the 1940s house, and her daughter did the shopping but meal planning went out the window when they would arrive at the market and the items they wanted were out of stock or beyond their weekly ration. The menu became not what they wanted but what was available at the time.

Last night, while making a huge pot of soup (Italian Cabbage & Bean in case you are curious), I was more thoughtful about how I peeled the potatoes and how I chopped the onion, so as to minimize waste. Rather than discard the outer leaves of the head of cabbage, as I had been prone to do, I carefully trimmed out a couple of bad spots so I could use the balance of the leaf. Although not called for in the now heavily-modified recipe, some fresh spinach I had in the fridge made it into the stock pot as well. Better to use it before it went bad.

But this is not a cooking website. However, during prior wars food was an issue. Now we are fighting a war over oil so we can continue to truck food all over the country — the “the 3,000 mile Caesar salad” as James Howard Kunstler likes to say. In our modern lives we just expect the supermarkets and restaurants to have everything 365 days out of the year. Walk into an Applebee’s “Neighborhood” Grill & Bar throughout the country and it likely has the same menu, regardless of location. We’ve lost the notion of eating local and seasonally.

In watching the 1940s house I thought the grandmother, Lyn Hymers (50), wasn’t going to make it to the end. However, following the show, it seems to have changed her the most. On the CD she says;

I just feel very privileged actually, to have lived through this. Some of the values that our parents, or our grandparents, held dear to, are actually, I’ve now found very important values. So I don’t know that having all the trappings of modern life makes it a better life.

True enough, modern amenities can indeed be a trap. Many are tied to the car, unable to get anywhere without it. A trap. So much of what we have, if push came to shove, we could likely do without. Sometimes we need that extra shove to simplify our lives. In the past, war would do that. Today, however, we are encouraged to continue our lives — keep driving and keep spending.

Lyn Hymers again:

The biggest impact that the war-time experience has had on my current day is that it is saving me so much money. I save money on the petrol, I save money by buying fresh produce instead of pre-packaged. I buy all my food fresh daily from local shops, not supermarkets. One of the things that was important to me during the war-time experience was my grocer, Mr. Lovegrove. He was a port in a storm. If my circumstances were different, and I were perhaps on my own or elderly, then it would almost be a lifeline, the local shop keeper. I do feel very strongly that I must champion the cause of the local shop keeper not only from a social point of view but because I found it to be cheaper.

Lyn Hymers indicated she had managed to reduce her pre-war vs. post-war grocery bills by nearly 60%, that is big!  But aside from saving money, I feel that we need to act like we are at war.

We have young men and women sacrificing their lives so that what, we can continue drive and shop? Most of us are too removed, myself included. Of course, the corporations making big profits from the war want the public detached. The more removed we remain, the more they can drag this out.

We can and should support our troops that are simply following orders of their commanders, all the while questioning why we started this war and why we are still there.  This holiday season we should make a sacrifice in our personal lives and do something for those fighting on our behalf.  Help the troops, help their families left behind.  Something, anything.


Currently there are "10 comments" on this Article:

  1. Maurice says:

    It is amazing what our older generations went through….there are still some around that lived during the depression and then the Big One-WW2.
    Rationing, recycling for the war effort, and living through being a prisoner were only part of the story.

    I encourage everyone to visit a senior center or home and chat up a storm with a senior. Not only will you bring some excitement to their life, but you will walk away amazed.

  2. Jim Zavist says:

    We’ve essentially outsourced this “war”, to an all-“volunteer” military and to contractors. We can apparently pay for it without real sacrifices, or a least borrow enough to keep things going. I’m truly conflicted on this one. I’ve never fully understood the “why” (and no, 9/11 and Osama aren’t the reason, otherwise we’d be focused on Afghanistan). Yes, oil appears to be one big driver, but we’re getting a lot less oil out of Iraq now than we were before we invaded, and we continue to buy huge amounts of oil from countries around the world with their own equally “questionable” agendas. Unfortunately, few wars are waged for true, pure ideals; most are waged for conquest, to better the lives of the victor at the expense of the loser, and we’re no exception.
    The need for sacrificing modern conveniences is one perspective. Another might be just what is going too far? Should we go back to being cave dwellers? Give up indoor plumbing? Go back to shovelling coal instead of using natural gas or electricity? Limit the sizes of homes? As a species, we’ve evolved, and we’re impacting the environment. It’s taken the US a couple of centuries to go from wilderness to today; it’s taking parts of China less than two decades. Much like health care, it’s easy to make global pronouncements, but when it comes to individual sacrifice, the ability to pay (or to get someone else to pay) seems to be the only real hurdle.
    As someone who lived with the draft during Vietnam, I have some sympathy for both the regular military members and for the individual contractors, who “volunteered” knowing combat was a real part of the job description, but only to the point that many come from rural areas or depressed urban areas with few, if any, other job opportunities. I have a whole lot more sympathy for the guard and reserve members (and their families) who were truly sold a bill of goods (“one weekend a month and 2 weeks in the summer”) and are now being held against their wills with stop-loss orders. If anything, I’m most frustrated by how the war has been both sanitized for public consumption and politicized into the partisan issue we have now. Hopefully, we can figure out an exit strategy soon. Quantifying the true costs in the Federal budget and reinstituting a draft would be two big steps in making this a lot more “real” for most Americans.

  3. Nick Kasoff says:

    As a former Army reservist, I don’t entirely share your sympathy. Only a fool joins the reserves thinking that it’s just “one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer.” That is just the training schedule, and during peacetime, that’s all that reserve units do. But obviously, if you are activated, your service will extend long beyond that. Two years seems like a bit much, to be sure. But the purpose of the reserve and national guard units is to serve during time of war, not to provide a weekend job for people who need a few extra bucks.

  4. notnostalgic says:

    This is one of the best essays you’ve written. Thank you.

    Oh, and Nick. Perhaps it’s true that ‘only a fool joins the reserves thinking that it’s just “one weekend a month….”‘. But the penalty for being a fool in Nick Kasoff’s judgment shouldn’t be possible death or dismemberment. Try to summon up just a little sympathy for these soldiers.

  5. Chris says:

    Human societies fight wars for mainly two reasons (very few exceptions to this): economic advantage and control of resources. Ideology, religion, various other propaganda are used to get people to fight and die in wars. Look through the propaganda about Iraq and you see corporations getting lots of goverment money flowing into them, whether it is GE, Boeing, Haliburton, Bechtel or Carlyle (Another good point about war, it is a racket, a few benefit from the loss and sacrifice of many). That is one aspect of it. The other is the oil. This people argue over, because one could rightly say that we could have bought the stuff cheaper from Saddam’s government. But this misses the point. Many countries were pushing to lift the santions on Iraq, including France and Russia, both would get oil contracts with Iraq for their national oil companies. US oil corps were left out. Notice who was against the war, France and Russia, among others. Oil is an important resource, whether you are going to use it, or more importantly just controling it. With world demand exceeding supply, having control of the big sources is more important (Iraq represents 10-11% of the world’s known reserves). Having that large a portion of the world reserves makes access to Iraq a strategic objective.

    Getting back to Steve’s post: With the suburbanization of America, most of us are dependant on the auto lifestyle and the fact that most of us need a car to get around. Along with our auto lifestyle comes the vast energy consumption, America represents almost 5% of the population yet uses 25% of the energy (this fact should make most people realize that there are geopolitical consequences to this, namely a foreign policy that demands access to the world’s resouces at the expense of democracy, justice, etc.). Steve’s website promotes the positive aspects of an urban lifestyle the includes being less auto dependant, compact communities that are pedestrian friendly, alternative modes of transport, among other subjects Steve touches on. An urban lifestyle would require less energy and inputs of other resources. The point about the 3000 mile ceasar salad is valid, transporting food grown on corporate farms requires a lot more energy which leads to more polution, etc. Try buying seasonal food from Farmers markets, another point, get you community to start up a community garden, this give you an appreciation for the growing of food and it also brings a community together. We just started a community garden in the Benton Park neighborhood last year and it has been a big success.

    Steve, there are many books on canning, it is not a lost art, I have been canning with various items I grew in the community garden and I even gave a class on it at a local church.

  6. Jim Zavist says:

    The other scary component, given unchecked population growth, is the increasing likelihood that future wars will be waged over something much more basic than oil . . . food and/or clean water . . .

    [SLP — No doubt, we’ll be using all our farm land and water to grow corn for ethanol so we can keep driving.]

  7. dude says:

    My take, there were 2 vicotries for that generation. WW2 was the easy one. Beating the great depression was the hard one. The oil is behind a lot of the violence, or terror, in the middle east. Religion and racism come in but, a ways back though, I’m not sure it’s directly a “war for oil.” Of course if it were, we are doing even worse than we think. Any WW2 comparison is out of touch with reality. The only thing in common is soldiers and marines getting killed on foreign soil. Vietnam is a more fair comarison, The Frenchin Algeria may be even better (highly recommend the film “The Battle of Algiers”). Much of the American motto for the 20th century was built around the concept of economies of scale. In a world where more goods get classified as “commoditites” it’s more profitable to produce a large number of products as cheaply as possible. Welcome to the assembly line. Is there really a difference between a coke and pepsi or are they an apples to apples comparison? Then again, the idea of only one brand of everything (monopolies) isn’t too rosy. A large part of Vietnam’s trouble had to do with Robert Macnamara’s Ford motor compnay thinking for fighting a war. A large part of Iraq’s troubles comes from Rumsfeld’s downsized approach. That black liquid that folks living in the desert with dirt for floors have underneath their ground, is quite helpful for the economy of scale; American motto. The Fed Gov has been very successful at keeping Iraq sanitized from soccer mom eyes knowing in reality we didn’t have the will power to make it work. Rationing fuel and larning Arabic are not what we “do”. Calling it winning or losing I don’t think applies. May be it’s like a marriage which Ive neverheard anyone describe as being won or lost. Since it’s called a war I suppose if we are declasred the “loser it won’t be for lack for firepower but being the greater of the two ineptitudes.

  8. Jim Zavist says:

    This is one example of increasing scarcity and how those with money are paying higher costs for the luxuries they desire: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_7755290 While not being able to fill one’s hot tub could be viewed as a minor sacrifice, the challenges metro Atlanta is facing with the current drought, http://www.sptimes.com/2007/12/18/State/States_reach_water_de.shtml hit closer to home for a lot more people. The most telling statement in this saga is the Georgia governor’s unwillingness to address or mitigate the supply-side issues sprawling growth causes. I find it pretty arrogant to assume that someone else will solve their problems, that just because I show up I should expect to receive full services. Water is a finite resource, especially in areas that don’t have the resource we have with our major rivers. It’s assumptions like these, that our resources are or should be infinite, that cause more wars than any thing other than religious fanatacism.

  9. fiona4jmj says:

    Came across this blog via googling for Lyn Hymers. I have a copy of the 1940s House and occasionally pull it out and rewatch it. My dad lived through the Blitz as a kid in London, so this program always was very interesting to me. Now, in 2010, with the world the way it is, the 1940s House has even more to teach us, I believe. We need to learn these lessons w/o the luxury of having advisors. Our family has moved to a farm and are trying to be more self-sufficient. It's amazing to me how little our generation knows.

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